Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 13, 2018 Guest: Ron Wyden
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. What do you mean insane?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: I don`t even know what happened today. I keep imagining -- I just keep seeing this sort of cinematic scene of the president`s body man, like what was it, like a bouncer thing, like the scruff of the neck kind of thing, like --
HAYES: -- how does that happen?
MADDOW: Not allowed to get the jacket, yes. You know, and last night when this reportedly happened, it was not -- not a warm night in Washington. So --
HAYES: No. You`re out, kid.
MADDOW: Yes, this is -- theirs -- I`m feeling that eventually we will look back on this day and we will have more clarity about what happened. But right now --
HAYES: I agree.
MADDOW: -- it feels like a complete spaghetti dinner and all related courses thrown up against the wall from don`t try to figure it out.
HAYES: Well, enjoy.
MADDOW: Oh thanks, appreciate it.
And thanks to your home for joining us this hour on what now passes for a totally normal typical Tuesday in American news.
Listen, I`m going to cut to the bottom line right now and tell you that I do not know why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was abruptly fired today and neither do you. And anybody who says they do know -- well, we`re going to get as close as we can to that tonight. But right now, it is still a mystery.
Nevertheless, he is out and so I`m going to do that awkward camera turn right now -- so we can add the name of the secretary of state to the list of departures of senior officials from the Trump White House and the senior ranks of the Trump administration. Just in the past couple of weeks, we have had to move my camera position so that we can show you this bigger wall so we could make room to add if we`re a third column here now on this wall. Yes, we were two columns, we`re now three columns.
We had to add Hope Hicks when she resigned as communications director. We had Josh Raffel when he resigned his deputy communications director. The one who worked for Jared and Ivanka, then we had Jared and Ivanka`s other friend, the guy who Trump had put in charge of the office of American innovation, that guy Reid Cordish, he was out too in the last couple of weeks.
Then we to add the number to official at the Homeland Security Department, Elaine Duke. Then we had to add the top official in the whole U.S. government on North Korea policy. His last day in the administration after 30 years working on this issue was the Friday before Trump announced surprise he`s going to meet with a dictator of North Korea. Yes, who needs a specialist on North Korea policy anymore?
Then we had the ambassador to Mexico also announced that she was leaving, another 30-plus years in the foreign service. She was not invited to the meetings that Jared Kushner took when he went to Mexico last week. And then we had Gary Cohn, the White House chief economic adviser also leaving as well.
So, we`ve had to develop this whole new system of trying to keep this list all in one place now, tonight, we`ve got to squeeze things even a little bit more because now we`ve got to add in -- drum roll, please -- the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who apparently came back early from a trip to Africa either because he was tired and not feeling great or to make sure he`d be in U.S. airspace by the time he saw the president`s tweet firing him. One of those two depending on who you ask.
Like I said, I don`t know why Rex Tillerson was fired and neither do you, but we`re going to get as close as we can to that tonight. First of all, I should tell you there`s some stuff you should know that is related to the Russia scandal that pertains to Rex Tillerson who was just fired as secretary of state. Also, some information related to the Russia scandal that pertains to Mike Pompeo who is now being nominated to replace Tillerson at State, so we will get to that stuff right here in just a second. That`s a piece of the Tillerson story that I think is worth considering.
But for the real -- the real skinny, for the real holistic story of what happened here today and why, and why now, we are going to be talking tonight on this show to the reporter who has covered this beat better and longer than anybody else in the business, one of the legends of this industry. That reporter is going to be here live with us in just a moment and I think she can get us closer to anybody else that explained -- to explaining why Rex Tillerson was forced out today.
Before I get away from the wall though I do also have to add a couple more names. First of all, we`ve got to squeeze in the number four guy at the State Department, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. His name is Steve Goldstein. He was fired today, too, apparently in relation to the Rex Tillerson firing.
Goldstein put out a statement explaining that Rex Tillerson hadn`t known he was being fired until he saw the president`s tweet about it this morning, so then I guess the number four job at the State Department, he was fired today after Rex Tillerson. We`ll have more on that in a moment.
We also had to make room on our big wall today for the head of NASA. The NASA administrator who was approved by the Senate during the Obama administration was a former astronaut named Charles Bolden. He resigned as NASA administrator the day Trump was sworn in, as did the deputy administrator of NASA. The Trump nominee to become the new head of NASA looks like he probably will not be able to get confirmed in the Senate, so we`ve had an acting administrator all this time and today the acting administrator of NASA, the guy running NASA, he just quit.
Also, we just lost the head of the U.S. Forest Service in the face of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, and there`s more we also lost the personal assistant to the president today. He didn`t so much as resign as he apparently got marched out of the White House.
Now, this one is a strange story for a bunch of reasons. First, let me just show you a picture of this man. This is not Rob Porter. Rob Porter was the White House staff secretary. He was the guy who was pushed out a month ago because of serious domestic violence charges against him.
This is not Rob Porter this is Johnny McEntee. For the record, it is Johnny McEntee on the left. It is Rob Porter on the right. They look so much alike that they have been mistaken for one another in national newspaper captions and on television more than once. But Rob Porter was the staff secretary with the domestic violence charges, he`s the one on the right. Johnny McEntee is the one on the left, he was personal assistant to the president until last night for some reason he was hustled out of the White House.
Look at how much they look like each other.
So, "The Wall Street Journal" was first to break the news that Mr. McEntee was out and in dramatic fashion. Quote: President Donald Trump`s personal assistant, John McEntee was fired and escorted from the White House on Monday. Mr. McEntee had been a constant presence at Mr. Trump`s side for the past three years. He made sure Mr. Trump had markers to sign autographs, delivered messages to him in the White House residence, and over the weekend, ensured that the clocks in the White House residence were adjusted for daylight savings time.
But then suddenly, poof, gone! Quote: Mr. McEntee was removed from the White House grounds Monday afternoon without being allowed to collect his belongings. He left without his jacket, according to a White House official.
What came up so suddenly that on Saturday night, he`s changing the White House residence clocks for daylight savings time, and as for today, he had been booked onboard the president`s flight to California, but then something came up that fast and yesterday afternoon, they ran him out of the White House without even letting him get his jacket.
Now, again, Wall Street Journal was first on this story. What they`re reporting is that Mr. McEntee was denied a security clearance over financial problems in his background. People close to Mr. McEntee said problem the problems related to online gambling and miss handling of his taxes. Those problems prevented him from gaining the clearance necessary for his job. According to one law enforcement official, the Secret Service is now investigating Mr. McEntee for these issues.
So, today, we have added the secretary of state, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, the NASA administrator, the head of the Forest Service, and the president`s personal assistant.
We have gone to the big wall and three columns. Anybody else going tonight?
Well, actually, I should let you know that MSNBC`s Nicolle Wallace stands by her multiple-source reporting that Trump`s second national security adviser after Mike Flynn, H.R. McMaster, is due out any day now, is due out by the end of the month. And I should also tell you that a whole bunch of news outlets got wind at the same time we did today that the embattled secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin, may also be on the way out, reportedly to potentially be replaced by Rick Perry who it`s still amazing is the current secretary of energy.
I have to tell you though, honestly, there is so much palace intrigue and manufactured outrage and aggressive spin on David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs right now, that I think just watching the stuff around Shulkin, I think it`s very hard to separate the speculation about his departure from the wishes and insinuations of people who are trying to arrange for his departure. So, on the Shulkin news tonight, a lot of people are talking about this, but grain of salt there.
So, if you were getting the sense that this has been a nuts day in the news, you are absolutely right, even for this administration. I mean, firing the secretary of state was very dramatic first act for the day. We have big start today but it hasn`t stopped.
Here`s a few other just nuts things that are going on today and into tonight. I mentioned a moment ago that the president flew to California today. One of the unusual things about his personal assistant being fired so abruptly that personal assistant had been scheduled to be on that plane before we got frog-marched out of the White House for still basically unexplained reasons yesterday.
Well, the president went to California today. Tonight, I believe as we speak, the president right now is attending a fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Now, ken Vogel at "New York Times" obtained this invitation for tonight`s fundraiser which as you can see brags in bold type that the president is going to be there. It also brags about the hosts of tonight`s fundraiser, including Elliott Broidy. Elliott Broidy hosting the president`s fundraiser tonight in California this may not be the brightest idea this White House has ever had.
You have seen this recent reporting that the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation has started to look into whether or not foreign money, particularly money from United Arab Emirates may have made its way into Trump`s political operation. Well, Elliot Broidy has obtained reported several hundred million dollars in contracts from UAE since the Trump inauguration in part because of his association with an adviser to the government of that country who has been a frequent visitor to the White House, a man named George Nader. Now, George Nader we now know was picked up at Dulles Airport several weeks ago by a phalanx of FBI agents who detained him hit him with a search warrant on the spot and George Nader has since become a cooperating witness for Mueller`s prosecutors amid reports that Mueller is looking into the flow of foreign money into Trump`s political operation.
Now, I know the president`s legal team are not considered to be the most potent drugs and the blister pack but which White House lawyers decided it would be a good idea to put the president himself out of fundraiser tonight hosted by this guy who is right in the middle of something Robert Mueller just arrested a guy for at Dulles Airport. And on that same matter you should also know today that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort daily life has just gotten considerably smaller. It was an order made public today about one of the two federal courts that`s hearing multiple felony counts against Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. The federal judge in Virginia whose ruling on preliminary motions in the case against Manafort in that jurisdiction, we now know has ordered that Paul Manafort shall be confined to, quote, home incarceration between now and his trial in July.
Home incarceration is a status that is far more constricting than what Paul Manafort had been subject to before, and the judges language on this is stark and straight forward just look at this from the order -- the order that was just posted tonight. Quote: These conditions are necessary because the defendant is a person of great wealth who has the financial means and international connections to flee and remain at large, as well as every incentive to do so.
And then get this: Specifically, given the nature of the charges against the defendant and the apparent weight of the evidence against him, defendant faces the very real possibility spending the rest of his life in prison. Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that defendant shall be subject to home incarceration, specifically, defendant is restricted to a 24 hour a day lockdown at his residence.
Other than attending court proceedings, defendant will only be permitted to leave his residence in Alexandria, Virginia, to attend meetings with defense counsel to attempt medical appointments and to attend religious observances. And then only after seeking and obtaining permission at least 48 hours in advance. So, again, this order from the court in Virginia just unsealed, just made public tonight.
A, this is house arrest for Paul Manafort. This is not what Manafort had previously been dealing with. This is above and beyond his to ankle bracelets, and, B, the judge is flat out saying here given the weight of the evidence against him, Manafort is facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
That stark warning for the president`s campaign chair coming tonight as the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee in the House surprised -- surprised everybody by releasing their own status report on the Russia investigation in the House of Representatives. This is the investigation and House Intel that Republicans abruptly declared case closed on yesterday and shut it down.
When the Republicans shut down that investigation yesterday, it was a surprise the Democrats hadn`t even been told that the investigation was over, let alone that it was being shut down and Republicans were releasing their report. We got some reaction to that shutdown by the Republicans yesterday from the Democrats on the committee, but even with those Democrats telling us what they thought about that yesterday, we didn`t know that the Democrats were going to go ahead today and release something like this, release their own status report on where they think the investigation had got to.
But, boom, they just dropped this tonight. It`s 21 pages long and it makes some eyebrow-raising claims. For example, there`s this: quote: the committee has learned that candidate Trump`s private business was actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election period. Really?
We knew, of course, from public reporting that Trump`s business -- Trump Organization was trying to figure out if they could build a Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign. That was difficult for the president to explain anyway because of all his public assertions that he had no deals with Russia despite the fact that he`d signed this letter of intent and was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign.
But now, this is a -- this is a step further Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say that the committee has evidence that the Trump Organization was actively negotiating with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election. We can assume that relates to the Trump Tower Moscow project I guess, but active negotiations with a sanctioned bank during the election that is new.
Oh, also, do you remember when fired FBI Director James Comey said, lordy, I hope there were tapes? He said, lordy, he hoped there were tapes of his conversations with the president when the president was pressuring him to drop the FBI`s Russia investigation. Remember that moment in the hearing when he -- when he said that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The only thing I could think to say because I was playing in my mind because I could remember every word he said, I was playing in my mind, what should my response be and that`s why I very carefully chose the words. And look, I -- I`ve seen the tweet about tapes, lordy, I hope there are tapes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lordy, I hope there were tapes.
Well, tonight in this Democratic report on the Russian investigation that got shut down yesterday by the Republicans, the Democrats say in their status report that they released in a surprise tonight, they say that James Comey may get his prayers answered, lordy.
Quote: The minority has a good faith reason to believe that the White House does in fact possess such documentation memorializing President Trump`s conversations with Director Comey. Really?
I told you today was nuts. And you know this is all happening on a day when we all thought absolutely hands-down the biggest story in the country was going to be this very exciting special congressional election in Pennsylvania. This is a district outside Pittsburgh that went for Trump by 20 points in November 2016. This therefore should be an easy hold for the Republican Party, at least by the numbers.
Polls closed at 8:00 Eastern Time tonight. This is what we`re looking at so far in terms of results. Right now, we`ve got 42 percent of the vote. And the Democrat on the left side of screen there is Conor Lamb. The Republican is Rick Saccone on the right side of your screen.
Again, this is a special election. There was a Republican member of Congress who represented this district. He resigned. He`s a staunchly anti-abortion member of Congress. He resigned after there were reports that he`d had an affair and pressured his mistress to have an abortion.
Right now, with 42 percent of the vote in in this special election tonight, Conor Lamb, the Democrat in this district is up by eight points at 54 percent of the vote with Rick S Saccone at 46 points. That`s remarkable in itself. Again, Trump won this district by 20 points.
So, we`ll keep updating these numbers as they come in tonight. There`s a lot of suspense about this race here. Democrats feeling like if they could even make a Trump plus district a close race in a special election, right, that could bode well they think for their kin their chances of contesting control of the whole House of Representatives come November of this year.
Republicans have spent over $10 million to try to keep this seat in Republican hands, including campaigning by the president and campaigning by the vice president and even the president -- look at this man, that`s how bad they want it. Even the president`s eldest son breaking they do not wear a hairnet while campaigning at campaigning rule, he was so desperate to help, he helped in a hairnet. So, that`s how bad the Republicans been trying to hold on to this thing.
But let`s put that board back up there live one more time. Right now, see it`s just gone at 50 percent in right now and it has narrowed a little bit percent in right now. Conor Lamb, the Democrat at 52 percent, Rick Saccone, the Republican, at 47, so a five-point swing between them, half of the vote in.
Again, these are the Pennsylvania numbers thus far. We`re going to be staying on this live throughout the night until we`ve got a result. So, that`s one reason to stick with us tonight.
Also next on the show, we`re going to go through as I mentioned earlier, one specific thing about the firing of the secretary of state today, it is a piece of this story that relates to the Russia scandal. I don`t know whether or not it`s relevant to why Rex Tillerson was fired today, but if there was ever a day that you should definitely know this happened you should know this happened. That`s next. Plus more live results from Pennsylvania.
Lots to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last night, reporters David Corn and Michael Isikoff we`re here on the show to talk about their new book "Russian Roulettes" which just dropped today. If you`ve gotten yourself a copy of that book already today, please turn to page 281, because in their new book on page 281, Mike Isikoff and David Corn published the text of a memo that was written by the author of the Steele dossier, Christopher Steele. It was a memo that was not part of what "BuzzFeed" published last year. It`s not part of the famous dossier.
This is something that was written by Steele after the election, after he was done working for Fusion GPS. He wrote it in December 2016. Now, we first learned that this memo existed last week and a great piece written in the "New Yorker" by Jane Mayer. But David Corn and Michael Isikoff actually got the text of this memo that was written by Christopher Steele. So, these are Christopher Steele`s own words as reported in the new book "Russian Roulette".
Quote: Speaking on November 29th, 2016, a senior official working at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a rumor is currently circulating there that us President-elect Trump`s delay in appointing a new secretary of state is the result of an intervention by President Putin/the Kremlin. Quote: The latter, meaning Putin the Kremlin, reportedly have asked that Trump appoint a Russia friendly figure to this position, to the secretary of state position, Russia-friendly figure who`s prepared to move quickly on lifting Ukraine-related sanctions and on cooperation in Syria.
Quote: The source assumes the Kremlin`s reported intervention was in response to the possibility that Mitt Romney viewed as hostile to Russia might be appointed secretary of state.
So, this memo from Christopher Steele which is now made public in this new book by Corn and Isikoff, it makes this somewhat mind-blowing allegation that Russia believed it for some reason deserve to have veto power over who is secretary of state, as long as Donald Trump is president. Not only do they believe they should, they felt it was their right to ask but they blocked Romney.
Now, that source cited by Christopher Steele and that memo said to be speaking on November 29th. Well, then two weeks after that, December 12th, Donald Trump announced who his pick would be for secretary of state. He`s been saying for weeks, he was going to choose between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, but somewhat randomly on December 12th, he unveiled his choice and it was somebody with whom he had no known personal connection, somebody he`d never met before the election. He said his new secretary of state would be the CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson.
Corn and Isikoff write, quote: It was an unusual pick. Tillerson had no diplomatic or even government experience, but he did have very close relations with senior leaders in Moscow. So, that`s the unusual set of facts and allegations surrounding how Rex Tillerson got the secretary of state job in the first place.
But now, today, Rex Tillerson is suddenly out and there`s been a lot of woolliness today around the timing of when Tillerson was actually notified he was going to be fired. That timing may end up being really important. I mean, one thing we do know is that the last thing Secretary Tillerson did before we all found out he was going to be fired was that he gave very strong, very direct remarks criticizing Russia.
He was asked about the ex-Russian spy who`s still critically ill and fighting for his life in the U.K. right now after being poisoned by what the U.K. government says was a Russian-made nerve agent. The White House has been reluctant to cast any aspersions on Russia for this crime, even after British Prime Minister Theresa May did so herself and point in terms yesterday.
But even though the White House was hedging, last night, Rex Tillerson was unequivocal. A reporter asked him, quote: Have you been tracking the ex- spies poisoning in the U.K.? Tillerson respond: I just got off a phone call with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. We`re going to be putting on a statement to support what their findings have been. This is a really egregious act. It appears that it clearly came from Russia.
Tillerson saying last night it clearly appears that Russia has done this, but then he goes even further in condemning Russia`s actions. Tillerson says, quote: I`ve become extremely concerned about Russia. We spent most of the last year investing a lot into attempts to work together to solve problems, to address differences. Quite frankly, after a year, we didn`t get very far. Instead what we`ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive. This is very, very concerning to me and others that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don`t fully understand what the objective behind that is, and if in fact this attack in the U.K. is the work of the Russian government, this is a pretty serious action.
Rex Tillerson made those remarks last night on his way home to the U.S. after cutting short his trip in Africa, made those remarks last night. Then this morning, we all learned that he was fired and we still don`t know why. That has led to questions today about the exact timing about whether Tillerson knew he was already fired when he made those remarks or if he didn`t, might those remarks have been a precipitating event for his firing. Those questions particularly pointed now in light of this newly reported allegation that Russia allegedly believed they had veto power over who would be allowed to be secretary of state while Donald Trump is president.
Now in terms of the man replacing Tillerson as secretary of state if he is confirmed, the president says it`ll be CIA Director Mike Pompeo. We don`t know much about Pompeo`s time at the CIA. CIA tends to be an opaque place in terms of day to day news coverage.
But we do know a little bit about Mike Pompeo as a public figure. During the presidential campaign, Mike Pompeo supported Trump. He proclaimed as he did in this tweet that stolen DNC emails published by WikiLeaks were a proof that the fix was in, need further proof that the fix was in from President Obama on down busted, 19,000 emails from DNC leaked by WikiLeaks.
Mike Pompeo was, remember, the House Intelligence Committee when he wrote this. We now know that WikiLeaks was leaking those emails having obtained them from the Russian government.
Once Trump took office as CIA director, Mike Pompeo reportedly has often taken it upon himself to personally deliver the president his daily intelligence brief. A couple of days into the new administration, the White House was warned about serious concerns at the FBI and in the intelligence community more broadly, that the Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn was a serious national security risk. He could be vulnerable to blackmail or coercion because he`d been having contacts with the Russian government that he was lying about.
Senior officials at the FBI and the Justice Department and at CIA were raising concerns about this. Despite that though, for the 18 days that the White House kept Mike Flynn on after receiving those warnings, CIA Director Mike Pompeo kept on delivering the president his daily intelligence briefing with Michael Flynn`s sitting in the room there with him, with Pompeo presumably in on the reasons the CIA was so concerned about Flynn as a national security risk.
"The Washington Post" later reported that in March of last year while FBI Director James Comey`s investigation of Mike Flynn was underway, President Trump pulled the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates aside, along with Mike Pompeo, President Trump asked Dan Coats to try to get the FBI director to back off its Russia investigation, to back off Mike Flynn. Mike Pompeo was reportedly in the room for that. Dan Coats reportedly discussed this conversation with other officials afterwards and decided he wouldn`t do what Trump asked him to do.
What did Mike Pompeo do after he witnessed this affair at pressure by the president on the Russian investigation? We have no idea, but we do know that he was in the room and saw it.
So, Mike Pompeo`s role in the Trump Russia investigation is a black box but we know he`s been in the middle of some of it. We know that while he was at CIA, he made a critical change to the structure of that agency as well. Within the CIA, there`s a counterintelligence mission center. According to "The Washington Post", this is the unit that helped trigger the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was that part of the CIA that served as a conduit to the FBI last year for information that the CIA had developed on contacts between Russian individuals and associates of the Trump campaign.
So, this is a sensitive center within the CIA. This is the part of the CIA specifically that turned up intel that helps start the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. While he was at CIA, Mike Pompeo did a little reorganizing and he made it so that that unit is the one unit at the CIA that now reports directly to him. He reorganized the CIA so that that unit is the only part of the CIA that reports to him and not to the deputy director or some other official.
And there`s not much else that we know in terms of behind closed doors stuff from Mike Pompeo`s time at CIA. When he has had to speak publicly, sometimes he said things about Russia that are completely untrue. When the U.S. intelligence community released its report on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, that report was quite clear that the intelligence community wasn`t making any assessment whatsoever as to whether these Russian activities, the Russian attack, affected the outcome of the 2016 election. They did not look, we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had in the outcome of the election.
That was the intelligence community`s report, January of last year. Ten months later in October, Mike Pompeo just casually threw out there and public remarks. The intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election. That was not true, even if it does match what the president says all the time.
Now, the CIA had days to a correction, had to walk back with the CIA director had just announced. No, there hadn`t been another report that we all missed in which the intelligence community had come to that conclusion. So, we do have some real loose ends and some questions about Mike Pompeo who is now going to be the new nominee to replace Rex Tillerson at secretary of state, and we still really don`t know why Rex Tillerson got fired from that job or even when he learned for sure that he was getting can.
But the best reporter in the country on the State Department and the top diplomats in this country is going to join us here tonight and if anybody can sort it out, she can. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, OUTGOING SECRETARY OF STATE: I`ll now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I`ve had to serve my country. God bless all of you. God bless the American people. God bless America.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Mister Secretary -- Mister Secretary, can you say what the future of Iran will be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has spent the past year trying to get answers from Rex Tillerson and his State Department. She was still at it today as he signed off saying, God bless America. Mr. Tillerson still was not answering her.
Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much for joining us tonight on what`s a really incredible news day. Thanks for being here.
MITCHELL: My record of not getting answers is unblemished, Rachel.
MADDOW: Batting a thousand, shooting the moon.
MADDOW: Andrea, let me ask you first about how this happened. Do you have clarity on when Tillerson found out he was fired?
A top ranking official at the State Department was some was fired today after Tillerson, after he said Tillerson only found out he was fired from a Trump tweet this morning. There`s been a lot of different reporting on this today. Do you have clarity on it?
MITCHELL: Not entirely. I do know that, according to the White House, according to the briefings for White House reporters, John Kelly called Tillerson on Friday night while he was traveling in Africa, and we have sort of been calling the S-hole apology tour. So, he was away for more than a week in Africa, and he got a call from John Kelly warning him, according to Kelly`s version of this, that the president wanted him to step aside.
Again, Kelly called him in the middle of the night Saturday, again warning him. Now, there are two explanations for this. Either the warning was not explicit or in fact Tillerson just thought this was another one of the frequent warnings that the president wanted him out and he has constantly been saying for months now that if he wants me out, he has to fire me to my face. I`m going to quit.
This man wanted to stay on the job. In fact those with him, including my colleague Abigail Williams from NBC and Gardner Harris (ph) from "The New York Times", Josh Letterman (ph) from "A.P." have all said he was ebullient on the tail end of this trip. He was on flight flying home. On Monday night, he was in fact briefing the press which he doesn`t always do, he was in very good mood, he was talking about what he intended to do in North Korea, run-up to the meetings, being the point person.
He was anointing himself as the point person on North Korea. He was the person pushing the longest, along with Secretary Mattis for diplomacy over, you know, rocket man and, you know, my button is bigger than your buttons.
So, despite a lot of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere from the president, back when the president was still being fire and fury against North Korea, Rex Tillerson was calling for diplomacy, and he was constantly undercut by the president but could not be humiliated into quitting. This man wanted to keep his job. He`s not on Twitter but he was called by an aide this morning around 8:44, and told the president had fired him on Twitter and still did not announce he was stepping aside until the president called him from Air Force One.
After 12:00 noon, there are reports that John Kelly persuaded the president really should call the man --
MITCHELL: -- and told him he`s out.
MADDOW: That`s remarkable.
MITCHELL: And then he scheduled the 2:00 in the briefing room.
Steve Goldstein, who was his under secretary, was fired I`m told by the deputy director of White House personnel after that statement that was Tillerson`s version of how he was fired.
There are two other names to add to your list, Margaret Petaline, the chief of staff to Rex Tillerson, and her deputy as well. So you need a bigger board.
MADDOW: Tillerson`s chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff to Tillerson are also both out tonight with this announcement.
MADDOW: OK. Let me ask you another question on this, Andrea.
It may obviously just be a coincidence -- it was striking today especially given that timeline they just laid out, that this firing followed on the heels of Tillerson very strongly condemning Russia for the poisoning of this ex-spy in the United Kingdom. Is there any reason to think that those events are related?
MITCHELL: I thought so initially. I have to tell you because I was posting on that when our colleagues called us from their refueling in Cape Verde when they had Wi-Fi and could give us the extensive comments that he had made and then a statement that followed.
MITCHELL: A written statement from Tillerson which exactly was a synchronous with what the Brits were saying, what Theresa May had said, what Boris Johnson had briefed him about, as you pointed out, and so different from what Sarah Sanders had said from the briefing room. I thought that was quite unusual. I was on the phone with a State Department official around 10:00 last night and was confident that well, Tillerson was in trouble again, but he`s been in trouble before.
And a wiser person said to me, he`ll be out by tomorrow, and I said, no, that`s not going to happen. This guy`s not going to quit. And I was wrong.
If that wiser person would ever like to take us both out for a drink, I would like to go.
MADDOW: OK. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News --
MITCHELL: I`m just going to say it`s a bigger point -- I know we have to hurry -- Iran is in play and smart people are pointing out that Kim Jong-un is hardly going to sign some deal or make concessions to the United States if the president and Mike Pompeo now tear up the Iran deal at the next deadline in May.
MADDOW: Andrew Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" here on MSNBC, noontime. Andrea, thank you. A huge day. Thank you for being here.
MITCHELL: You bet.
MADDOW: All right. Just a quick look right now actually live check in on the congressional election results we`ve got in Pennsylvania tonight.
Seventy-five percent in, look, it`s tightening up, two points between the Democrat and the Republican with three-quarters of the vote in in this special election in Pennsylvania, only 3,500 votes between them. This is a Trump plus-20 district. We`ll be watching that last quarter of the vote come in over the course of tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last year when President Trump appointed Gina Haspel to serve as deputy director at the CIA, number-two position at the agency, this is how that news looked in headlines. Gina Haspel, CIA deputy director, had leading role in torture.
In 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects at a CIA secret prison in Thailand. She also later took part in an order to destroy videotapes that documented the torture. After her appointment last year to the number two job at the CIA, two Democrats on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich sent President Trump a letter protesting that appointment, protesting that Gina Haspel`s background makes her unsuitable for that position.
Senators also urged Trump to declassify a description of Gina Haspel`s role in the CIA`s torture program. Needless to say, Trump never did that and he did appoint her to the number two job at the CIA last year.
Well, now today, he`s nominated Gina Haspel to be the director of the CIA as he tries to move Mike Pompeo out to be the new secretary of state, replacing the abruptly fired Rex Tillerson.
Senator Ron Wyden today said that he will oppose Gina Haspel`s nomination to run CIA. He says he`ll oppose it for some reasons that he can`t talk about and for some reasons that he can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: I, of course, have access to classified information and I`m very troubled about what I know and can`t discuss. It would seem to me to advance Gina Haspel right now would be in effect to vote favorably for secrecy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Senator Ron Wyden. He`s a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator Wyden, thank you very much for making time to be with us tonight.
WYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: You said it would be a vote it would be to vote favorably for secrecy to vote for Gina Haspel for CIA director. What do you mean by that?
WYDEN: What I mean, Rachel, is in effect the facts have been covered up here for quite some time. We have been trying to get this information. As you know, Gina Haspel has never testified before the United States Congress. There have been published reports -- public reports about various links with respect to interrogation, torture and the like.
But the public has a right to know here. And what Senator Heinrich and I are talking about is information that could be made available to the American public, particularly with this nomination that would in no way compromise what are called sources and methods. And it seems to me in the name of transparency and accountability, this information needs to be declassified.
MADDOW: Do you have any option to make any of that information -- even in an in a roundabout way, do you have any opportunity to make any more information -- any more information public about her than has already been made public?
WYDEN: Well, she will have to come to a public hearing for this particular nomination and what we`re going to do is lay out in particular what happened with respect to torture during those Bush years. We know that the detainees were treated in a very cruel way -- you know, in effect people were injured, were tortured. We know that the CIA lied with respect to whether or not torture had actually stopped terrorist plots.
The agency lied to the Congress, lied to the American people and what we`ll be asking at those hearings is what role Ms. Haspel had if any in those matters.
MADDOW: You also said today, Senator, that you will oppose Mike Pompeo`s nomination to be secretary of state, replacing Rex Tillerson. You said that Pompeo and the president both have a casual relationship with the truth. Why will you -- why will you oppose Pompeo?
WYDEN: We thought when he was the director of the CIA that it was so hard to pin him down on fundamental issues with respect to accountability. You and I have talked about the open intelligence committee hearing in the past when I tried to pin him down on Mike Flynn. Sally Yates said that Mike Flynn was a security threat. We could never get Mike Pompeo to describe explicitly what happened with Mike Flynn and those presidential daily briefings.
And Pompeo is going to have the huge effect on American foreign policy, for example, with respect to sanctions and Iran and Russia. With respect to Russia, what he`s always tried to do is curry favor with the president to play down the role of the Russians and potential collusion.
So, those are going to be important hearings.
MADDOW: Senator Ron Wyden, senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- sir, thank you for joining with us tonight. Much appreciated.
WYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Lots to get to tonight you`ve been watching these numbers come in in the Pennsylvania special congressional election right now you see it`s tighter than a tick. We`ve got less than percent of the vote left to come in. We got 87 percent in right now with two points between them. The Democrat currently in the lead.
We`ll be right back with live coverage. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, results are still coming in in tonight`s special election in Pennsylvania`s 18th congressional district. This is what we`ve got right now. Look at this, 95 percent in and it`s 50/50. Right now, 928 votes between the two of them. The Republican has been trailing all this time as we`ve been watching these results come in.
But right now, with 95 percent in, Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb look like they`re tied at 50/50. But Saccone obviously has a narrow lead there. So we`re going to be watching this as these come in.
I need to tell you about this district, so this is a district that Tim Murphy has represented since 2002. Tim Murphy, a Republican member of Congress known if among other things for being very staunchly anti- abortion. He got this seat for the first time in 2002, sworn in for the first time in 2003, won handily in that race.
He was so -- he had such a grip on that district that in 2014 and 2016, Democrats didn`t even bother to run somebody against him. Democrats just let him run uncontested in terms of having a Democratic opponent.
This district in Pennsylvania everybody`s been talking tonight about the fact that it was a Trump district, that Trump beat Clinton there in 2016 by 20 points. But it`s been a Republican district for a very long time. Right now, Romney -- I mean, in 2012, Romney beat Obama there by 17 points. In 2008, McCain beat Obama there by 11 points.
So, the margin by which Republicans have been carrying this district in presidential races has been going up and up and up over the last three cycles. But this Conor Lamb versus Rick Saccone`s account race was brought about through unusual circumstances. Tim Murphy, the staunchly anti- abortion Republican congressman, is found to be having an affair and to have reportedly advised the woman he was having an affair with that she should have an abortion.
That ends up being not just family values hypocrisy on his part. That ends up being hypocrisy on the issue that he is most known for in terms of his social conservative, anti-abortion activist views. So, Tim Murphy has to resign there.
We get Conor Lamb as this Democrat who jumps in in that race, sort of tailor-made for that race if any Democrat was. He`s an ex-marine. He`s former prosecutor. He`s Pennsylvania born and bred. Running against Rick Saccone who is a strong Trump supporting, sort of Trump style Republican, and a Trump style Republican is the kind of Republican you think would sort of handily hold on to this race, especially in a district where a Democrat hadn`t even -- they don`t even bothered to run a district -- a Democrat in this district for the last couple of cycles.
But let`s put that board back up again. Again, right now, we`re just watching the last few votes come in here we`re just looking, do we have the -- do we have the board?
Thank you very much. Ninety-five percent in right now, obviously, that difference number -- oh yes there we go. So, Saccone at 100,979 votes, Conor Lamb ahead at 101,907 votes. Forgive me, I got that backwards before. Ninety-five percent of the vote in, 50/50, less than a thousand votes between these two.
Steve Kornacki has been tracking these results for us over the course of the day and into tonight, but as this -- I mean keep in mind as we get this last percent as we get hopefully what will be a final result at some point tonight.
This is a race that Democrats thought if they could even keep this close, it would be a huge victory for them. It would be some sort of great sign for them in terms of what they`re looking at heading into the November elections when they would really dearly love to take back the House.
But for Republicans, this is a race at Trump plus-20 district where you think they`d be able to win here without really spending too much of their wheels. But they spent more than $10 million here. They dispatched the president, the vice president, even the president`s son to try to hold on this thing.
Watching this thing come down to the wire is going to be fascinating just as its own election in this own district, but also for its national implications. So, I`ll see you again tomorrow. We`re going to stay with this Pennsylvania coverage for the rest of the night tonight.
It`s now time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence. This is going to be fun to watch.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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